FAMM is mobilizing families across the country to ensure that our criminal justice system is both fair and effective. For far too long, people who have made mistakes and broken the law have been subject to harsh, one-size-fits-all sentencing and prison policies that ignore the unique facts and circumstances of the crime and the individual. This approach is not only un-American, it wastes taxpayer dollars with sentences that are too long, too heavy-handed, and too focused on punishment instead of rehabilitation for the 94% of all prisoners who will return to our neighborhoods one day.
Our efforts to reform federal laws happen in three primary arenas:
FAMM in the States:
States across the country are realizing that growing prison populations and costs are the result of adopting mandatory minimum sentencing laws. In response, states are trying to cut costs by repealing or reforming mandatory minimum laws, including using safety valve exceptions and cheaper, more effective alternatives to incarceration. Read our summary of states reforms.
If you have questions about FAMM’s advocacy in the states, please contact Molly Gill, Vice President of Policy, at 202-822-6700 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Though we’re no longer working in the following states, FAMM made significant accomplishments during our time there:
In December 2017 Michigan adopted a major reform to its drug sentencing laws. SB 72 and SB 73 (along with SB 220) eliminate life without parole for second and subsequent convictions for the “manufacture, delivery, possession with intent to manufacture or deliver, or simple possession of” between 50 and 1,000 grams “of a Schedule 1 or 2 narcotic or cocaine,” and create parole eligibility for offenders currently serving life without parole sentences for those offenses.
Longtime FAMM supporters will remember back in the late 1990s and early 2000s when we spearheaded the successful effort to repeal Michigan’s notorious “650-Lifer” drug mandatory minimum law. FAMM was happy to support SB 72 and 73, which help finish the work we started back then, and provide the possibility of relief from unnecessarily punitive sentences to those still suffering from the lingering effects of 650-Lifer.
As you can read in a summary of the bill here, a wide range of state-based and national groups across the political spectrum supported these bills, while “no arguments opposing the bills were offered.” It’s safe to say that Michigan — one of the first states to adopt mandatory minimum drug laws back in the early 1970s — has learned its lesson well. Here’s hoping other states follow their lead!
History of Legislation
In May 2017, FAMM and seven partner organizations delivered a letter to the Michigan Senate. The coalition praised Michigan’s past leadership in drug sentencing reform and urged lawmakers to now take the next step: repealing life without parole provisions in drug sentencing laws and creating parole eligibility for those currently serving life without parole for drug offenses.
HB 4694 was passed as a part of a package of laws which provides a framework by which judicial circuits may establish and run mental health courts.34 Specifically, this law permits circuit or district courts to establish mental health courts and defines the essential structure and characteristics to which they must adhere, including the types of services they should provide. The law allows courts to establish general eligibility requirements, including accepting individuals who have previously been placed on probation, participated in a similar program, or who have had criminal proceedings against them deferred.
The state passed additional reforms that provide earlier parole eligibility to most of the drug offenders who were not affected by the earlier reforms.
During this time, Michigan passed sweeping reforms of its mandatory minimum drug penalties. The legislature repealed almost all drug mandatory minimums, changed lifetime probation to a five-year probationary period and implemented new sentencing guidelines.
Lawmakers repealed mandatory life sentences without parole for certain drug offenses and made those serving such sentences eligible for parole.
History of Legislation:
Gov. John Bel Edwards signed SB 220 into law, which repeals most of Louisiana’s mandatory minimum drug sentencing laws. Earlier, FAMM sent a letter of support of SB 220 to the Louisiana legislature. The law’s passage—which involved the hard work of several reform groups—is especially impressive considering that Louisiana is the biggest jailer in the country.
2015: HB149 was signed by then-Governor Jindal in support of state lawmakers, law enforcement lobbying groups, and the ACLU to ease up marijuana penalties in the state. Maximum penalties of 20-year sentences dropped to eight and the threshold for felony-level possession was raised to three-time multiple offenders. Additionally, a new second-chance provision was added for first-time offenders.
HB332 was enacted, a policy that doubles the mandatory minimum sentence for heroin distribution from five years to 10. It also created a new mandatory minimum of two years for heroin possession.
SB 398/HB 683 expands eligibility for participation in a drug court probation program. Defendants who are charged with a violent crime, domestic battery, or driving under the influence, have other pending violent criminal charges, or have a prior homicide conviction are ineligible. Each drug court must issue an annual evaluation of effectiveness that details the program’s impact on recidivism.
HB 670 expands opportunities for intensive parole supervision—early release under the strictest level of supervision—to nonviolent habitual offenders. To be eligible, a person must be assessed as low-risk for reoffending and fulfill certain criteria, including completion of pre-release programming and educational goals.
HB 781 expanded an already-existing reentry program— the “Offender Reentry Support Pilot Program”—in the Pointe Coupee Detention Center. The law authorizes the Pointe Coupee Sheriff to find funding, create an advisory board, and implement the program, which must include individually tailored programs providing behavioral health treatment, education, and job-skills training. The program will connect people leaving prison with community stakeholders and assist them in obtaining housing, necessary documentation, health insurance, and child care upon release.
2012: Louisiana enacted three new prison reform laws in May 2012, including one that gave prosecutors discretion to waive mandatory minimum prison terms for non-violent, non-sex offenses.
The Iowa Legislature passed a sentencing reform bill for the second straight year in 2017! The new bill, SF 445, was passed unanimously by the Iowa House of Representatives on April 18, 2017, and unanimously passed by the Iowa Senate on March 15, 2017. It was signed into law by Governor Terry Branstad on May 10, 2017. Read FAMM’s press release about the signing of the bill here. [Update when press release is added]
What the New Law Does: SF 445 includes several of the reforms that were previously in a different Iowa bill FAMM supported, HF 579, but which did not pass through both houses of the Iowa Legislature. SF 445 makes some important reforms to Iowa’s mandatory minimum sentencing laws, including:
- Repealing the 20-month mandatory minimums for Class C drug offenses. This reform is retroactive, meaning about 200 Class C drug offenders currently in Iowa prisons will become parole eligible on July 1, 2017.
- Creating a new rule allowing judges to reconsider and adjust a person’s sentence for a Class C or D felony any time during the first year a person is in state prison. Judges or the Department of Corrections must request reconsideration of the sentence, and the judge must notify prosecutors of the reconsideration and may have a hearing, if necessary. The judge may or may not change the original sentence, and that decision cannot be appealed.
- Narrowing Iowa’s outdated disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentencing. Previously, it took 10 times as much powder as crack cocaine to get the same sentence. SF 445 increased the quantities of crack cocaine in section 124.401 so that it takes only 2.5 times as much powder as crack cocaine to get the same sentence. This brings Iowa closer into line with crack sentencing in the rest of the states and makes crack sentences much fairer.
FAMM supported SF 445 and thanks Governor Branstad and Attorney General Tom Miller for their support of sentencing reform. We’re also grateful for the leadership of the lawmakers who championed the bill, House Majority Whip Zach Nunn (R-Bondurant), Rep. Rick Olson (D-Des Moines), House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow (R-Windsor Heights), Rep. Ashley Hinson (R-Marion), Senate President Jack Whitver (R-Ankeny), and Senate Judiciary Chairman Brad Zaun (R-Urbandale).